Confirmed bachelor Constable Hamish Macbeth is beset on every side in the latest of Beaton’s Highland mysteries. While Scotland suffers the effects of economic recession, an enterprising woman turns Buchan Woods near Braikie into a lucrative public attraction, Fairy Glen, with guided tours, a gift shop, and a bright blue kingfisher that swoops into the pristine pond beneath the falls to snatch its prey before awed onlookers. The attraction’s hallmark, the kingfisher is featured on Fairy Glen’s promotional material.
When the magnificent bird is found hanging—murdered—only one person falls under suspicion: the curmudgeonly Mrs. Colchester, whose property abuts the nearby woods. Aged and wealthy, Mrs. Colchester has actually begun to favor the Fairy Glen, her bad humor in reality exacerbated by a visit from her spoiled grandchildren, whose flat grey eyes and smug rudeness suggest a purposeful menace as their parents wait impatiently for the old woman to die.
Currently enamored of the woman who has developed Fairy Glen, the shapely and ultra-feminine Mary Leinert, Macbeth is easy prey, still at sixes and sevens in the romance department, keeping a low profile in the constabulary at Lochdubh, small village life suiting him despite a chronic lack of female companionship. (It must be noted, however, that each novel in the series offers Hamish yet another opportunity for romantic entanglement. He either doesn’t manage these affairs well or gets cold feet when the femme du jour gets too close for comfort.)
The charming Hamish is the lynchpin of Beaton’s popular mysteries, a man out of step with the world and happy to remain that way. Unfortunately, Macbeth’s natural complacency is impossible to sustain in Death of a Kingfisher, the bird’s “murder” only the beginning of a number of brutal killings, each more gruesome and shocking than the last. Fairy Glen may have attracted tourists, but it has also opened the door to more than the usual village mayhem, Mrs. Colchester’s wealth like catnip to her relatives, the village rife with rumors of stranger sightings as the killings multiply, each a stunning tableau of horror and gore.
Beaton colors outside the lines in this novel, mixing familiar characters with assorted crooks and miscreants, including a Russian mobster, as the wily constable stays below the radar and TV crews converge, throwing Macbeth’s superiors into a public relations nightmare. While regular denizens of Braikie and Lochdubh lend an ambiance of business as usual, the outside elements are more sinister and less likely to be constrained by Hamish’s machinations. It is as though the eccentric personality of Macbeth’s rural paradise has been infected with the ubiquitous criminality the larger cities, where sheer numbers breed an anonymity that is impossible in the Highlands.
Macbeth hasn’t changed, but the cultural isolation of this extraordinary place is certainly breeched by the noxious air of big city crime, greed and murder far less amusing or colorful absent those wonderful characters that people Macbeth’s world. Personally, I prefer homegrown crime nurtured over centuries of family feuds and entanglements, Hamish and his “beasties” inhabiting a simpler existence untarnished by sophisticated crime. Fairies need seclusion to flourish.